freedom

Perfectionism and Blogging

Perfectionism and Blogging

by Frank Theus, LPC

In my line of work as a therapist writing a blog or contributing to one is considered part and parcel of the profession; in fact, I know many fellow therapists who attest to how much they enjoy writing informally via a forum that invites conversation. Perfectionism has stood in my way before now.

“Every time I write a [blog], I have to remind myself that all I have to worry about is the next paragraph.” – Donald Miller

However, what does a therapist-blogger do when the writing becomes de rigueur du jour and try as best they can simply can’t lift a pen, or type out the next word much less “…the next paragraph” (Miller)?

Ignore the panic attacks? Obfuscate, deny, and delay regarding the topic and proposed deadlines? Stop writing? Quit the job? Does any of this seem extreme to you? Well, hello, I’m that guy who has been there, done that, and has those t-shirts.

You see, I hate to write. Duh!

Writing’s a powerful medium that can expose the author’s heart-life leaving them vulnerable to evaluation and critique – real or imagined – by others; and, my basic survival instinct wants no part of that. Perfectionism won out. Are you able to relate?

You see I’m recovering from perfectionism, triggered by the thought of writing, grammar, punctuation, and (reasonable) expectations of me around this topic. For a variety of reasons I failed to learn the basics in secondary school and later in my undergraduate years. In Abba’s infinite and providential sense of humor I was thrust into leadership roles within professions that required me to write for the sake of other’s careers. No pressure there. Right?!

But writing didn’t get easier for me then or by the time I went through graduate school as a 50-something reinventing retiree, or afterward here at Avenues Counseling. Finally, I shared my angst with my boss and we agreed I’d take a mini-sabbatical from writing. I wish I could say I used this holiday to constructively reflect, engage in intense psychotherapy to get at the root causes of my graphophobia, become a modern day contemplative Reformed-Benedictine, to journal (God forbid) but I didn’t do any of those things. Instead, I more often than not simply disengaged from any thought of ever writing again. I was good with that.

But here I am. Writing. Haltingly so. Imperfectly, and [relatively] free. What happened? I’m not sure; and, I don’t know that I have to have it all figured out.

Whatever the “it” is in your life that keeps you stuck or otherwise diminishes your quality of life maybe the first step is to be kind and gentle with yourself and to simply acknowledge it aloud.

But don’t stop there. Risk, yes, risk being vulnerable enough to tell someone that’s trustworthy what the “it” is. Ask for help, learn, grow, heal, and re-engage with enjoying the whole of your life. L’chaim!

Does your past matter?

Does your past really matter?

by:  Courtney Hollingsworth, LPC

shutterstock_155509727How often to you pick up a novel or biography you have not previously read, flip to a random page in the middle of the book, and start reading from there? Have you ever tried to sit down in the middle of a movie and pick up the storyline? Our lives are stories full of experiences that connect and impact what comes next. So when we say that the past doesn’t matter or our childhood has no significance when it comes to what’s going on in our lives today, it seems to me more like it’s wishful thinking than what is actually true.

I think there are different reasons why we want to downplay the significance of our past, specifically our early years. Sometimes it seems to stem from a desire to believe we’ve moved past it all, grown too strong and mature for any of those vulnerable years to still have the power to impact us today. For others the motivation to downplay prior experiences comes from an avoidance of the pain which accompanies them.

The reality, however, is that our lives are a whole intricate story.

Think about it this way: what’s the first thing a doctor asks about? Your medical history. What do you want to know about a car before buying it? Accident history and mileage. Similarly, when you are getting know someone new, whether a friend, co-worker, or date, conversation will surely be filled with facts about the present, but part of getting to know them is also understanding their past and where they come from, both literally and figuratively.

Neglecting the importance of our past, especially our early impressionable and very vulnerable years, is a misstep that hinders our growth and depth in the present.

History is a mandatory subject in school for a reason. We can become students of our own histories and discover how and why we got to where we are, potential pitfalls and blindspots we operate with, and relational patterns and styles that may contribute to our present relational struggles.

The Healing Presence of Brutal Reality

The Healing Presence of Brutal Reality

by: Jason Pogue, PLPC

Do you know that uncomfortable tension when you realize you are trying to be somebody or something you are not?

I’m not sure what it feels like for you. For me, it is as if my mind begins to separate itself from my heart, trying to press ahead and leave my knotted stomach and racing heart behind. If I just do these things I can pull it off and no one will know. Often my mind is so good at this that it can be in this place for weeks before I start to recognize my body aching from carrying all the tension – my tight shoulders and aching legs like clues to the mystery of where I actually am. And, no wonder it sometimes takes weeks! Prior to beginning my own counseling journey my mind was in this place for years unaware – racing ahead to avoid the deep fears of being “found out” as an imposter or discovered as someone broken beyond hope. Perhaps my mind was racing ahead at light-speed to avoid the deep pain that I didn’t know how to experience yet, unaware that this pain collects interest over time.

Recently I sat down with some colleagues to discuss an interview with a prolific psychiatrist and author, Irvin Yalom. Irvin recounted early in his career a moment when he sat in the therapy room with “a red-headed, freckled woman, a few years older than” him. In the first session, this woman shared with Irvin that she was a lesbian. Irv writes, “That was not a good start because I didn’t know what a lesbian was. I had never heard the term before.” I about burst out laughing when I first read that. This is the prolific therapist Irv Yalom! Yet even Irv has moments where he must make a choice. Am I going to try to be someone I’m not, or be real in this moment with this person?

Irv, being the gifted therapist he is, made the split-second decision that “the only way [he] could really relate to her was to be honest and to tell her [he] didn’t know what a lesbian was.” And so, he invited her to enlighten him in the coming weeks about her experience and they developed a great relationship in their work together.

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The truth that this little story reveals to me is that what we all need most is genuine and honest connection. If that exists, we can learn from each other and enjoy each other even in our differences, failures, finitude, and confusion. However, this connection is impossible when my mind is racing ahead of my heart – when I’m living in a world designed to protect me from the present, rather than risking being honest about the reality of what is happening right now.

Unfortunately the world we live in continues to tell our minds to run ahead…to forget about the moment because you have a million other things to do, too many things to worry about…or to forget about the moment because what if the moment is unbearable? And yet, it is only when we risk acknowledging the present reality of the now – when we don’t shy away from our fears, inadequacies, wounds, guilt, powerlessness – that we can ever truly enjoy the beauty in and around us and the joys of living in this world.

If you’re tired of trying to be someone you are not, what is stopping you from being who you are? What is stopping you from stopping, and entering into the reality of now?

(The interview with Irvin Yalom can be found at: https://www.psychotherapy.net/interview/irvin-yalom)

Panic Attacks

Panic Attacks

by: Lianne Johnson, LPC

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There are several different ways in which Anxiety can manifest itself.  One way is through Panic.  It is usually referred to as a Panic Attack.  Panic Attacks occur when we experience real or perceived danger that is overwhelming to us – it can cause you to feel as though you are out of control.

Have you ever experienced any (or all) of these symptoms?

  • Loss of breath and it feels hard to breath
  • Deep heaviness and pain in your chest as though an elephant were sitting on you
  • Dizziness
  • Spotted vision
  • Nausea
  • Heart beating quickly
  • Body shaking
  • Sweating

Has there been a time in your life when you felt fearful of something or someone to a debilitating degree and you experienced these symptoms? Or maybe nothing particular happened and you scratched your head wondering why that happened to you.

Have you answered yes to any of the above?  If so, then it seems safe to say you had a Panic Attack.  Panic Attacks tend to not last longer than +/-10 minutes, but the aftermath isn’t quite so quick.  Your body is exhausted, you’re wondering if you are okay, and you are probably confused and disoriented.  You may find yourself asking the question,”Am I CRAZY?!”person-41402_640

Take comfort in knowing that although you feel crazy, feeling like it doesn’t make it true.

Panic Attacks are treatable and preventable.  You can learn relaxation and meditation techniques, meet with a counselor who can help you learn how to think through your panic in new ways and regain control over your thoughts (Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy), and you can take anti-anxiety medication to help with your short-term and long-term needs as you learn to manage your anxiety.

Over time as you utilize some of the above mentioned methods for anxiety management you will begin to feel less out-of-control and more in-control of your anxiety.  The key to managing your anxiety well is to practice, practice, practice anxiety reducing techniques when you don’t have any anxiety at all.  Why?  This way you form habits and when anxiety strikes again the techniques you practice will be easier to recall.

Need help to develop your anxiety management plan?  Contact our counseling center and we will assist you.

How to live in Freedom: Confessions of a Recovering People Pleaser

By: Andy Gear, PLPC

How to live in Freedom: Confessions of a Recovering People Pleaser.

 

For most of my life I have been a people pleaser. In fact, for a long time I didn’t even feel like it was a problem. Who doesn’t want people to be happy with them? I do.

However, thirty some years of unnecessary anxiety and guilt have convinced me that living to please others presents some problems. That’s not to say that all guilt is unnecessary, but guilt that comes from people pleasing often is.

This is because people pleasers live according to another’s perceived expectations rather than their own values. In fact, these expectations are often at odds with our actual values—values such as honesty, authenticity, and even real love. We no longer seek the best for someone but simply their temporary approval.

Guilt can be an appropriate reaction if we have truly done something wrong. But more often than not, our shame is about someone’s response, not our actions. People pleasing replaces our deepest values with a cheap imitation.

Another problem with people pleasing is the illusion that it is actually possible. It’s not. To adapt Abraham Lincoln’s famous quote: you may be able to please all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot please all the people all the time.

And in my opinion, we can’t really MAKE anyone be pleased any of the time. Being pleased is a choice that the other person makes. We are responsible for our character. They are responsible for their reaction.

Another problem with people pleasing is the cost. Two of the biggest costs are freedom and maturity.

People pleasing prevents growth into mature adulthood. The pursuit of approval takes valuable time away from developing our own identity, values, and goals. We give up responsibility for the direction of our own life. Instead of learning to manage our own life and emotions, we give that power to another.

In fact, many people pleasers give little thought to their own personal development at all. Being so caught up in what another person wants prevents us from truly contemplating our own goals. We can end up with careers, friends, or hobbies that we never really wanted. A people pleaser can spend their entire life not knowing who they are or what they are capable of.

Worst of all, people pleasers forfeit freedom. We compromise our own freedom and the freedom of those around us. If gaining someone’s approval feels like a necessity, then we will do anything to get it. This gives the person we want to impress absolute control over us. We will be easily manipulated.

Not only that, but we may begin to try to control the behavior of those closest to us. If a certain type of family is necessary to gain approval, then we may demand that our spouse or children ‘toe the line’ as well. We will compromise not only our own freedom but also the freedom of those we love.

Nine practical steps towards freedom:

  1. Consider your motives: Are you trying to be the best version of yourself or are you image-crafting?
  2. Cultivate your values: When you feel guilt or shame, ask yourself: ‘have I actually violated my values?’
  3. Think about what brings you delight at your core: Are you pursuing that or something else?
  4. Notice if you are acting out of fear or obligation: Whose opinion do you fear?
  5. Fight your desire to change others: Why is this necessary? Are you actually struggling to manage your own feelings internally?
  6. Pay attention to what makes you anxious: Are you believing that you could control someone’s reaction if you got it just right?
  7. Observe where you struggle with maturity: Where are you giving the responsibility for your own actions, thoughts, and feelings to someone else?
  8. Focus on your own character: Are you letting yourself be distracted by someone else’s potential actions, thoughts, or feelings?
  9. Clarify your own goals: Whose life are you really living?

Good Tears?

Good Tears? Is there such a thing?

 

I went for probably 20 years without shedding a single tear. It’s not that I never had reason to do so. I had plenty of sad or powerful things happen in my world in those times, and I even felt as though there were moments when I could have cried, but the tears would not come.
That has changed. My tears have been unleashed. It’s starting to worry me.
There have been many things recently that have moved me deeply, and my tears have fallen. It was as I drove through the smoky mountains with my family recently and found myself once again moved to tears that I realized several things all at once.

  1. I have driven here before, many years ago, and I was not moved to tears.
  2. I was in as much wonder and awe then as I am now.
  3. I’m crying a lot lately. It’s starting to feel like I’m crying “too much”.
  4. I’m not crying because I‘m sad.
  5. Crying in awe and wonder at this massive and overwhelming beauty is perfectly appropriate.
  6. Crying in awe and wonder at this massive and overwhelming beauty is richer than not crying.

Somewhere in the back of my head and deep in the recesses of my heart there is still a voice that says tears are risky and vulnerable, that crying means I’m a “wuss” or a “pansy” (these are old words, and I know they are not appropriate in common usage, but they are the words that are there).

There is a lot in culture that reinforces this. My tween-aged son talked about “man-screaming” on a roller coaster recently. He demonstrated gripping the safety bar and clenching his face and teeth without making a sound. He was proud of the fact that he resisted the urge to scream, but it kept him from “cutting loose”. Crying is often seen as weakness. Even the picture above shows a very stoic kind of tears. Sometimes mine look like this.

Crying a lot feels defective.

But these are good tears. These are tears of delight and wonder, of the overwhelming perception of beauty, of physically seeing and experiencing a fabulous reality that boggles the mind, of realizing that what I am in the midst of feels like a fantasy painting but it actually exists and I am here in it.

 

I spent 20 years not crying because I had refused to become vulnerable. I had been trained by many people that to become vulnerable in this way would mean physical and emotional punishment. I had buried other pains and refused to weep over them. I would not be touched or moved beyond my own control.

 

My inability to weep over pain robbed me of the experience of weeping in joy and wonder. We as humans are wired for emotional experience, and we are wired to weep. We cannot turn off one kind of tears without turning them all off. I could not weep at beauty because I could not weep at my pain.

I have been tackling my pain with the help of friends, colleagues, and of course with the help of my own therapist. The releasing of those tears of pain has released many other tears. Good tears. Tears that I relish and love for their potency and magnitude.

These tears of wonder and beauty often surprise me. They catch me up and sweep me away. I could stop them up, but I have learned not to. Let them come. They are good and beautiful… and vulnerable, uncontrolled. In the back of my head, sometimes I think, “Really?! I’m going to cry about this?”

Yes, I suppose I am. And I am thankful.

By Jonathan E. Hart, LPC

The Power of And

The power of and: Bonnie and Clyde.  Chocolate and peanut butter.  Bert and Ernie.  They just go together, right?  The “and” works because we know (or have at least learned from others) that they fit together.  You can have one without the other but most would say neither would be quite as good or complete.

 

“And” is good.  “And” is how it should be.

But sometimes in life, we encounter circumstances that simultaneously press on both joy and sadness, hope and fear, relief and great grief.  Emotions that don’t feel like they should go together.

Avenues Counseling

You just had a baby; you are excited to be a mom and also really sad to lose the independence and freedom you used to have. You have a workaholic dad who doesn’t always have time for you; you love and respect him and have also been really hurt by him.  Your spouse just lost a long battle with cancer; you are devastated by the loss and also relieved that you are no longer overwhelmed by being the 24/7 caregiver.

Emotions that don’t feel like they should go together.  And in the midst of trying to make sense of them, we hear those voices in our head (or perhaps very audibly from those around us) that only one side of that “and” is the acceptable response or proper set of emotions to feel given the circumstance you are walking through. The way you “should” feel.  So the other, very real side of the “and” gets stuffed down inside with a sufficient dose of shame heaped on top.  It’s not allowed to be felt or talked about or acknowledged with anyone.  What would they think if they knew? How can both of these seemingly conflicting feelings be real?

For those of you who resonate with this, what would it look like for you to allow yourself to sit in the tension between your “and”? To be honest with yourself to see that you are feeling both the “acceptable” response to your circumstance as well as the “unacceptable” or less acknowledged response.  And to give yourself room to feel both sides of your “and”.  To grieve where there is sadness and identify what has been lost.  To rejoice where there is goodness or something gained. And to realize that giving way to one emotion does not negate the very real experience of or reality of the other.

And when you encounter a friend experiencing an emotion that “shouldn’t” be felt, I encourage you to sit and listen. To take a moment to put yourself in their shoes…really in their shoes.  And consider whether you might also be feeling a similar seemingly conflict of emotions. And then give them room to experience both sides of their “and”.

The power of “and” is freedom – freedom from shame, freedom to be honest, and freedom to be whole.

 

By Melinda Seley, PLPC

What’s so great about grief?

by: Andy Gear, PLPC
                  

I remember those first moments after the accident as if everything was happening in slow motion. They are frozen in my memory with terrible vividness. After recovering my breath, I turned to survey the damage. The scene was chaotic. I remember the look of terror on the faces of my children and the feeling of horror that swept over me when I saw the unconscious and broken bodies of Lynda, my four-year-old daughter Diane Jane, and my mother. I remember getting Catherine (then eight), David (seven), and John (two) out of the van through my door, the only one that would open. I remember taking pulses, doing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, trying to save the dying and calm the living. I remember the feeling of panic that struck my soul as I watched Lynda, my mother, and Diana Jane all die before my eyes. I remember the pandemonium that followed—people gawking, lights flashing from emergency vehicles, a helicopter whirring overhead, cars lining up, medical experts doing what they could to help. And I remember the realization sweeping over me that I would soon plunge into a darkness from which I might never again emerge as a sane, normal, believing man.

–Jerry Sittser, A Grace Disguised

I remember a time when I experienced loss. As I walked home that evening, I remember telling myself this isn’t going to ruin me. I made a vow that I wouldn’t let it affect me. I wouldn’t be weak. I wouldn’t feel. I would forget; pretend it never happened. And then it wouldn’t hurt me. Then it wouldn’t touch me. I would ignore the wound; pretend it wasn’t there. Then it would go away.

But it didn’t go away. Neither did my memories. I started watching more TV to try to divert my attention. I had trouble concentrating on work, my mind wandering back to that event. To that pain. I had to distract myself, numb myself. I mustn’t think about it ever again. It was too painful. If I thought about it, something bad would happen . . . I had to avoid it at all costs.
None of us want to suffer. But none of us can truly avoid it.

We all have reason to grieve at some point in our life: loss, mistreatment, rejection. In the end it affects us all. But how we approach it influences how it forms us. As I see it, there are two basic options: we can ignore it or we can grieve it. And the path we choose determines how we come out on the other end.

On the surface, ignoring it sounds like the safer option. Just ignore it, don’t let it affect you. But it doesn’t work that way. When we ignore it, it continues to grow inside us. We waste away from the inside out.

It affects the way we approach life; we shut down parts of our selves. We shut down part of our mind. We shut down part of our heart. We become less than a whole person. Our relationships become shallow and stilted. There are parts of us that are shut away, irretrievable, unreachable to the closest people in our lives. We find ways to distract ourselves: TV, hobbies, work, porn, busyness. They may seem harmless enough. But they begin to own us. We live with eyes half open. We live with our heart half closed.

But we choose to ignore it because we feel overwhelmed and powerless. We want some sort of relief, any relief to get us through the days and nights. We keep ourselves busy to avoid our tortured thoughts. We numb ourselves to avoid the unbearable pain.

When we notice the pain less, we think we are out of the woods. We have survived the grief unscathed. But we have merely pushed it below the surface. And it will pop up again: in anger, in addictions, in unhealthy relationships. We have not saved ourselves pain; we have merely stretched it out, separated it from its source, and allowed it to dictate who we become. The irony is that in trying to escape the pain, we have given it the keys to our heart and allowed it to blindly drive us—as we simply pretend it isn’t there.

So what about the second option? The scarier option: facing our pain head on. Admitting the hurt. Acknowledging the loss. Processing the damage. Mourning what once was and will never be again.

This is the way of healing. We can choose to face it squarely. To meet it head on. To enter it honestly with our eyes wide open. It is a long and painful journey, but it can be a journey of growth not destruction.

But this requires facing reality for what it is. We cannot ignore it and hope that it goes away. A wound will not heal with lack of care; a bone will not mend without being set. We cannot heal by denying that something has been broken. We are made to share our stories, to experience our pain, to feel deeply, to mourn fully.

We must allow ourselves to grieve. This is not something that happens overnight; it takes time and community. It is not easy. It takes sharing our hurt, expressing our pain, acknowledging the damage done. Grieving does not make us weak; it makes us courageous. It is facing life as it is, not as you wish it were. There is hope in authentic suffering, but only false-hope in denial and distraction. Loss does not have to ruin us. In fact, if we face it honestly, it can grow us. 

Understanding and Treating Sexual Addiction

by: Andy Gear, PLPC

This Friday and Saturday we (two other Avenues counselors and I) attended a workshop on Understanding and Treating Sexual Addiction taught by Richard Blankenship: author, president, and director of the International Association of Certified Sexual Addiction Specialists (IACSAS)I wanted to pass some of what I learned on to you:

Addiction is the excessive use of pleasure and excitement to obliterate emotional pain 
   Addictive Sexuality ends in despair and shame
      Healthy Sexuality ends in joy and connectedness (Hatterer)

An addict’s Core Beliefs are:
    1. I am a bad, unworthy person
    2. No one would love me as I am
    3. No one will meet my needs
    4. Sex or a relationship is my most important need
    5. God is not powerful enough or trustworthy enough to meet my deepest needs (Carnes)

Basically an addict believes that grace is for everyone but me. Addicts are full of shame, which can be described as:
    Self
    Hatred 
    Accepting 
    M
    Enslavement

This shame and wounds from one’s past help drive the cycle of addiction: 

Some things I should know if I am a spouse of a sexual addict: 
       1. Don’t blame yourself for the perpetrators problem 
       2. Don’t minimize the grief and pain
       3. Stay in community

       4. The only person you can be responsible for is you!

Some things I should know if I am a sexual addict:
       1. Sexual Addiction is an Intimacy Disorder at its core
       2. Recovery must take place in community
       3. Pride, arrogance, and isolation are the top enemies of recovery 

       4. Recovery takes work, but it is doable!

Tools of Recovery:
     1. Join a Support Group
    FirstLight
                Celebrate Recovery
             Therapy Groups
             L.I.F.E Groups
     2. Find a good Counselor (Blankenship)

Does any of this sound like you or your spouse? If so, I would encourage you to begin this process as soon as possible. It is never too late to start the journey towards healthy sexuality! 

Guilt or Shame?

by Jonathan Hart, LPC

Guilt and shame are powerful feelings.  Many people experience them on a daily basis.  For some, they are feelings to be avoided as “inappropriate” in our current society. For some, they are tools or weapons used consciously or unconsciously to get children or adults to behave the way we want them to. For some, they are  ever-present and smothering.

I distinguish between guilt and shame.  Guilt, when internally experienced and heeded, is a productive emotion that leads to a change in negative behavior patterns. It is the “Godly grief” that 2 Corinthians 7:10 describes as leading to the genuine understanding that I have done wrong and hurt myself and others, and that I need to behave differently. Guilt says, “I have done wrong.”

Shame is a feeling that says, “Something is wrong with me”.  It is a statement describing identity rather than behavior.  It cannot lead to a change in behavior because the problem is “all of me”, as the character Hiccup says in the wonderful movie, “How to Train Your Dragon”.  The language of shame says, “What’s wrong with me?”, “Why can’t I …”, “I’m always/never…”, “I am (a screw up, a goof ball, a fool, fill in the blank…)”.

Shame speaks with the language of identity (“I am…”) rather than the language of deeds (“I did…”). As such, it makes change nearly impossible to conceive, much less execute. If the problem is who I am rather than what I did, there is no hope for change.

Think about the language you use on yourself.  Think about the language you use on others, or on your kids.  If you say things like “What’s the matter with you?!”, or “You are such a …” as you correct your child, you are very likely shaming them rather than reproving them productively.  Rather speak to their deeds: “That was inappropriate to do.”, or “You hurt your sister. That was wrong.”  In this way, you help train the child’s moral compass and help them to learn how to define right and wrong accurately.  You also make the problem a fixable one rather than a permanent one; the problem is outside the individual rather than the individual themselves.

We can do this for ourselves as well.  When you hear, “Agh!  Why can’t I ever get this done?”, or “I don’t know what’s wrong with me that I …”, you are using shame language.  Try shifting from statements of identity to statements of action: “I made a mess of that situation.  I will try to do it differently next time.”, or “I’m sorry I hurt you.”, or  “I see what I did, and I don’t want to do it again.”

Shift your language into language of hope rather than hopelessness.  When you describe genuine wrongdoing, make sure you use the language that describes it as wrong-doing, not wrong-being. It can take work to set the oppressive and impossible weight of shame aside, but it is worth the effort.